After ambling home from the sold out Death From Above 1979 show at The Bowery Ballroom, I attempted to write a review. As I sat down to my laptop, Jesse Keeler’s bass still buzzing in my head, I was at a loss. How do I write a review of a noise-punk outfit that is so much more than noise punk? How do I explain the cacophonous riot of a drums/bass/vox duo that splits your head open and then makes you dance over your brains like they were packing peanuts? Upon taking the stage earlier that night, Toronto’s beloved hell raisers proceeded to floor the audience of metalheads, scenesters and pony-tailed groupies—spitting out tracks off their bare-bones debut Heads Up, favoring feedback over hooks.
As I looked around about three songs in I noticed hardly anyone was dancing! The audience seemed stiff and only semi-roused. Was the overflowing Ballroom confused? Was the amalgamation of noise-punk, metal and dance-rock too much to take in live?
Just before I could find an answer, Grainger took a moment to comment on the packed house saying, “The first time we played in New York there were about 20 people there, so this feels really nice…it only took you guys four years!!!” Keeler clarified, “That’s Canadian for thanks for your support, New York.” And in the same breath exploded into a rapid version of “Turn It Out” off the newly popular You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine.
Then all of the sudden—maybe it was the lovefest, maybe it was the undeniable sound storm of thick bassed, cymbal spanking, face-stomping fury that followed—but people started dancing! DFA79 never missed a beat, barely stopping between songs, racing through the raucous “Romantic Rights” then tearing right into “Blood On Our Hands.”
Clearly sensing the crowd’s growing energy, Grainger hammed it up, tossing his shirt to the ground and circling his kit with the mic and taking turns blocking front row snap shots with his feet. Sweaty and dripping sex atop an amp, Grainger belted out his best soprano screams.
Having never witnessed DFA79 live, I was interested to see if the Toronto boys, known for their unruly, if not occasionally illegal behavior would be more sedate after claiming to have left behind the party-coke-girls lifestyle prominent on much of their material. Though Keeler proved the ring on his finger hardly changed his approach, explaining their graphic homage to unprotected sex, “Pull Out,” with “This is a song about loving someone so much you don’t care if you get them pregnant…but mostly it’s about how fun it is to ejaculate.”
Grainger wailed with discordant abandon while Keeler scraped out soul-gripping bass riffs. Eventually we were all at their mercy—moving not out of want, but out of need.
DFA79 closed out the sweat-soaked frenzy some time after midnight, then returned for a much desired encore, feeding us two more songs of noise-heavy fervor until we were left damp and quivering, disoriented and euphoric, to gather our brains off the floor.